Whammy one for U Tasmania leadership

The university’s proposal to redevelop it’s Hobart campus has been decisively rejected by voters in city council elections

what’s happened: a vote on the development plan was on the ballot, which the university lost by a thumping majority – close to 75 per cent agin.

While not binding it would be hard for the new council to ignore and the university announced Saturday it will withdraw its development proposal for the Sandy Bay site.

“A clear message is that the future of the Sandy Bay campus is important for Hobart as well as the university, so we will work with the City of Hobart as the planning authority on the best way forward.”

This is a major set-back for the university, which planned to sell-off most of its existing campus to fund a relocation to CBD sites, which is already underway.

The move was adamantly opposed by a community campaign that wants the university to stay where it is.

how come: university management has been out-campaigned by activists for years, with the development plan becoming a focus for staff dissatisfaction with university leadership and disquiet in the broader community at what critics claim is a focus on commercial objectives.

what now: the university council has signalled that it continues to back Vice Chancellor Rufus Black, who is inextricably linked to the relocation. In September council renewed his contract indefinitely, six months before his first, five year, term expired. “Council supports and is committed to delivering the university’s strategy, which includes the consolidation in Hobart’s CBD,” Chancellor Alison Watkins stated.

Supporters of the CBD relocation suggest that the decisive vote demonstrates community opinion in inner Hobart rather than the rest of the city – that students from other areas would benefit from classes in the CBD, served by direct public transport, which Sandy Bay is not. Maybe, but it’s the city council that covers U Tas and  it is hard to see how councillors can now approve development of the existing campus.

and next: The university has already moved a great deal of its operation into the city. With the Sandy Bay sale off for now, the challenge will be to fund it  A learned reader suggests, this will mean cost cutting at the university and maybe even a state government bail-out down the track (CMM September 18).

But before there’s a second whammy: broad-ranging inquiry into U Tas governance by a committee of the state’s Legislative Council is underway – and if members pay heed to many submissions, the report will be critical indeed of the way the university is managed.